Spring Break in the Sunshine State

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We bloggers weren’t the only Traveler staffers to take inspiration from college students last month. This entry from online editor Kathie Gartrell came in just as we were taking off for our spring breaks in Japan and Texas, respectively, so we weren’t able to serve it up quite as fresh as those oranges on the Florida’s Natural box. Like those oranges though, her trip was so juicy it still tastes good after a little while on ice. Take a sip:

My husband I recently took our own spring break road trip—an 1,100-mile (1,770-kilometer) drive from Wheaton, Maryland, to my dad’s place south of Naples, Florida. Call me crazy, but I enjoy stopping at a Cracker Barrel for quick hot meals (not to mention a chance to buy some Bobs Mint Sticks and play the Cracker Barrel Peg Game) and spending the night in a Hampton Inn along the way. Although we don’t usually stop at any roadside attractions, we love reading the enticing billboards. Our favorite: the kazillion signs leading to South Carolina’s South of the Border flea market/amusement park/roadside resort. They all feature Pedro, a lovable Mexican cartoon-character. One of my favorites: ‘Keep Yelling Kids (They’ll Stop).’

Our Florida destination was close to the Everglades—in other words, gator country. One morning we saw a lone alligator floating down the channel out back of Dad’s house. But the closest we got to one was at Big Cypress Bend boardwalk, along the Tamiami Trail. I had remembered this park from a story I researched for Traveler back in 1997 (‘In Big Cypress Country,’ March/April). It’s a winding, elevated boardwalk about half a mile long that ends at a swamp pond. Along the way we were lucky enough to catch up with a tour group led by a knowledgeable guide who pointed out various flora and fauna, including a bald eagle’s nest with a fledgling flapping its wings (the nest was so well built that it had survived several hurricanes). At the swamp pond we saw a buzz of activity: three generations of alligators. The grandmother was ‘keeping house,’ as the guide explained, making sure the pond stayed deep enough to hold water even when the dry season hit. Her daughter sunned herself on the bank while several smaller, younger gators napped on a log. Also in the mix were an egret, a great blue heron, and an anhinga, a sleek bird with a long snake-like neck that dives underwater and spears fish.

Baseball fans that we are, we couldn’t go to Florida in March without attending a spring training game. So we headed east on I-75, known as Alligator Alley (yes, we saw more gators!), to Fort Lauderdale Stadium where the Baltimore Orioles were playing the Florida Marlins. It was great to see some of our favorite O’s up close in the small venue (seating capacity 8,340), and watch newcomer Aubrey Huff hit one out over the left-field fence. But, unfortunately, his was the only run, and our team ended up losing 5-1. It’s hard to complain, though, when you’re spending an afternoon in sunny 70-degree weather, and back home a winter storm is brewing that’s about to dump snow and sleet on the D.C. area.